Wednesday 10 April 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 10/4/2024

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Salone del Mobile special

As Milan Design Week approaches – and with it our series of talks in collaboration with V-Zug (pictured) – we revisit the work of Italian design grandee Achille Castiglioni and discuss why tradition and culture matter in architecture with Pritzker Prize winner Francis Kéré. Plus: we meet the pioneering Singaporean duo behind groundbreaking ceramic sculptures and learn more about the craft-focused collaboration between Very Simple Kitchen and the homeware brand Redduo. But first, Grace Charlton shares some observations ahead of Salone del Mobile.

Opinion / Grace Charlton

Balancing acts

Monocle has been busy compiling the annual Salone del Mobile Special newspaper, in which we highlight the emerging talent, established brands and new design developments from Italy and beyond that you should know about. In the process, I’ve learnt the following lessons:

Listen to young voices. Marva Griffin Wilshire, the founder of Salone Satellite, told me that young designers have always been more conscious of the materials that they use and the need to minimise waste. In 1998, when she started Salone Satellite to showcase the work of those under 35, the topic of sustainability was innately understood by emerging designers before it became a buzzword across the industry.

Complacency is not an option. Reputations are built over time and across generations. I spoke to Brianza-based furniture company Tacchini and Danish lighting manufacturer Louis Poulsen, and both stressed the importance of balancing forward-looking contemporary collaborations with archive offerings. Designs by Joe Colombo and Poul Henningsen will always appeal but space also needs to be made for the big names of tomorrow.

Indulge your obsessions. This year, David Lynch will host two “Thinking Rooms” at Salone. In preparation for an article on the US director, I delved into his body of work, consuming everything from 1977’s Eraserhead to the moody 1990s TV show Twin Peaks. Obsessively immersing yourself in someone else’s vision is a great way to cultivate understanding.

There’s nothing like meeting in person. It’s often over lunch and aperitivi that the most interesting conversations occur. At the recently opened Milanese watering hole Minerale, I spent an evening speaking to Andrea Rosso and Fabiola Di Virgilio, the founders of Milan-based studio Redduo, about their collaboration with Very Simple Kitchen (see below). In-person meetings facilitate more sprawling discussions – we covered their ongoing home renovations and the pros and cons of city life. The possibility of more meaningful interactions will be the focus of Monocle’s talks in partnership with V-Zug from Monday to Wednesday next week.

Grace Charlton is a writer at Monocle.

Pick up a copy of Monocle’s dedicated design newspaper, ‘Salone del Mobile Special’, which is available now on newsstands across Europe and online.

To book your place at one of our design talks, from Monday to Wednesday during Milan Design Week, RSVP today.

Design News / Achille Castiglioni Foundation, Italy

At your service

The archive of Milan’s Achille Castiglioni Foundation, located in the former studio of the eponymous architect and industrial designer, is packed with curiosities. There, you’ll find shelves of maquettes and photos of places that no longer exist, such as the Splügen Bräu brewery pub, which closed in 1980. This collection will be displayed during Milan Design Week as part of Projects to Serve, an exhibition focusing on Castiglioni’s projects involving food and beverages. “Achille said all the time that if you’re not curious, forget it,” says his daughter, Giovanna (pictured), who has been the face of the foundation since its launch in 2011.


Castiglioni worked in the studio from 1962 until his death in 2002 but never bought it. Since then, the rent has steadily increased and the foundation’s contract was not renewed when it expired in February. As a result, this showcase will be among the last at the studio unless a deal can be struck with city authorities or private investors to preserve the space and the archive as they are. “It’s so challenging to keep heritage alive,” says Giovanna. “But we continue to receive a lot of love for this man.” Those wanting to show their appreciation should stop by during Milan Design Week.

Visit ‘Projects to Serve’ at the Achille Castiglioni Foundation at Piazza Castello 27 during Milan Design Week.

Design News / Alcova, Italy

Pride of place

This year, Milan Design Week’s Alcova showcase of emerging talent will take place in Varedo, an hour’s drive north of the city centre. The event will occupy two villas, one of which was the 19th-century summer home of the Bagatti Valsecchi family. Though now dilapidated, it remains an architectural gem, with wall and ceiling frescoes, Doric columns and arches.

Image: Consiglio Manni
Image: Consiglio Manni
Image: Consiglio Manni

The villa will host Alcova’s official shop – some of whose wares are pictured in situ above – and welcome the likes of Greek design duo Objects of Common Interest and Netherlands-based Pepe Valenti. There will also be a new furniture collection from Belgian gallery Maniera and designer Jun’ya Ishigami. “Every time we do this, it’s about opening locations for the first time or using them in a different way,” says Alcova’s co-founder Valentina Ciuffi. The building’s classical beauty and the freshness of the works on display will certainly make for a potent mix.

Visit Alcova at Bagatti Valsecchi at Via Vittorio Emanuele II 48 during Milan Design Week.

Image: Robert Rieger

Words with... / Francis Kéré, GERMANY

Trust the process

Born in Burkina Faso and trained in Berlin, Francis Kéré creates work that combines innovative design with traditional craftsmanship – an approach that helped him to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2022. He will be discussing his work as a speaker at this year’s Salone del Mobile.

Why should architects care about Salone del Mobile? What can they learn from the furniture industry?
I trained as a carpenter before studying architecture and have made furniture for my buildings. Designers are very good at innovating using new materials, colours and shapes. Furniture breathes life into spaces and gives people comfort and joy. I will be at Salone this year with a handcrafted installation produced in collaboration with kitchen manufacturer Schüller.

How important is it to pay homage to the built and material traditions of the place that you’re working in?
Place has a crucial role in my approach to architecture. If you want to succeed, you have to take tradition and culture into account. You need to understand them, absorb them, learn from them and let them become part of the construction process. It’s about allowing ancient knowledge into your work.

What makes a good architect or designer?
You need to trust yourself. If you’re working on a project and have put your whole heart into it but people don’t get it, keep pushing anyway. That’s when you’ll find something new.

For more interviews with top designers during Milan Design Week, tune in to Monocle Radio. And if you’re in Milan, drop by our pop-up studio at House of Switzerland Milano at Casa degli Artisti in Brera.

Image: Juliana Tan

Emerging designers / Design Singapore, SINGAPORE

Touching from a distance

This week, Singaporean designers Clement Zheng and Genevieve Ang will unveil “Reciproco”, a pair of ceramic sculptures that respond to haptic feedback. If you place your hand on one of them, the other – whether it’s across the room or on the other side of the world – will heat up in response. “It’s about presence and how materials and technology can support communication between two people,” says Zheng.

The work will be displayed at Future Impact 2, an exhibition of new Singaporean works commissioned by Design Singapore Council. The exhibition will be held in Rotonda del Pellegrini in central Milan. As with last year’s inaugural Future Impact showcase, it will explore the ways in which design and technology can address issues such as sustainability and environmental protection.

Visit ‘Future Impact 2’ at Rotonda del Pellegrini, Via delle Ore 3, during Milan Design Week.

Eurocucina / Very Simple Kitchen, Italy

Back to basics

This year there’ll be a big focus on kitchen design in Milan. With the biannual Eurocucina showcase taking place at Salone del Mobile, many designers and brands will be launching new kitchen-based projects at separate venues across the city. Among them will be Andrea Rosso and Fabiola di Virgilio (pictured), the founders of Milan homeware brand Redduo. After meeting Riccardo Randi and Federica Poluzzi of Bologna’s Very Simple Kitchen at the Convey showcase during last year’s Milan Design Week, they decided to team up. They will return to Convey this year with a new offering created by combining Redduo’s sensibilities with Very Simple Kitchen’s approach to modular design and industrial-manufacturing know-how.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto
Image: Andrea Pugiotto

“We wanted to create a kitchen that was a little more artisanal,” says Di Virgilio. “We chose to work with birch and a semi-transparent, chemical-free linseed-oil varnish that doesn’t cover up the wood’s grain.” To achieve the perfect colour stain, Redduo insisted on running multiple tests; every coat is also applied by hand. The result is an earthy palette that enhances the natural character of the birch. Its first customers – Rosso and Di Virgilio themselves – will be integrating it into their new home in Milan. “Andrea and I just need to agree on a colour,” says Di Virgilio. “That’s always the hardest part.”;;

Visit Convey at Via Bernina 1 during Milan Design Week.

In The Picture / ‘The Last Notebook’, Switzerland

Pen to paper

The Last Notebook is a facsimile of modernist architect Louis Kahn’s final journal, which he kept towards the end of his life. This version, issued in a limited print run by Lars Müller Publishers, will debut at Milan Design Week. It’s paired with a companion volume that features an essay on the architect and explanations of his references and drawings.

Image: Tony Hay
Image: Tony Hay
Image: Tony Hay

Getting the journal published was a labour of love for Kahn’s daughter, Sue Ann. The octogenarian came up with the idea 15 years ago but it wasn’t until the 50th anniversary of her father’s death approached that a publisher agreed to take it on. “Sue Ann understood the value of her father’s notations and phrases,” says Mark Masiello, founder and CEO of Rhode Island’s Form Portfolios, which helped to fund the book. “She saw the magic.”

Form Portfolios is also working with partners to produce unreleased lighting and furniture pieces that Kahn designed for his buildings. For Masiello, there’s something particularly spellbinding about Kahn’s architecture. “You feel better after experiencing [his] buildings,” he says. Exploring the pages of this two-volume set has the same effect.;

Sue Ann Kahn and her son, architect Gregory Kahn Melitonov, will be in Milan on 18 April to introduce ‘The Last Notebook’ as part of a panel discussion with Marco Sammicheli, moderated by Deyan Sudjic.


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